(the start of something)
She rode through the town at a lazy pace, allowing the umatokage to stretch its long legs in a natural stride. Despite the noise of the vehicles and people moving around her, she could hear the hard grind and scratching of her beast’s claws as they dug into the asphalt of the road. Her companion, Yami, moved along side her in much the same manner. Both scanned the crowd as they had been taught. Neither really knew what to look for. Yami pointed out a sign and guided his umatokage in that direction. The animal made a long grunting sigh, as if sad to stop moving.
“Is this the place?” She reigned in her animal next to his and looked down at the silver motorcycle on her other side. Machines were so common here. She could remember seeing a vehicle once as a child. It hummed slowly along, unable to go any faster than the press of people around it. She had been unable to understand the point of it. If you could only drive it the speed of walking people, why not walk? But there were more than the narrow roads of the Den.
“Hiage.” Yami gently rubbed one of the long tentacles that swayed down her back. She wished he wouldn’t do that.
She looked at him.
“We should go inside.” He dismounted. It was one smooth arc of motion; his leg and tail flipping out and over with graceful ease.
Hiage jerked her foot out of the stirrup and yanked her leg across the saddle. She stumbled back, stepping on her tail. She let out a small squeal and took her tail in her hands for inspection. It hurt enough for her to think her tail had been crushed, but there was no mark.
“Are you alright?” Yami asked. He gave her a small shake of the head and turned towards the building. He didn’t wait for her to answer.
“Yes.” She let go of her tail. “I’m fine.” She glared at his back and grabbed her bag. She dragged it up onto her shoulder and shuffled after him. She glanced up at the sign she couldn’t read and wondered why they had come here. It smelled.
The room was dark. A bar ran parallel to one wall, with square wooden stools lined in front of it. Behind the bar, two human women bustled about mixing things together from bottles. A man was also at the bar, but he was Oni. His long chin and high brow spoke well of his breeding. He sported nicely curving horns that wrapped back from behind his ears to end in a fine point close to his jaw. His skin was a pleasant brown, richly dark. He gestured for them to come to him with his large hand, claws extended.
Yami strode across the room, easily gliding through the crowd of people. Hiage waited a moment, to allow the customary lead, then followed him to the bar, bumping into people as she went and gruffly apologizing. They sat on the low stools in front of the Oni and waited.
He looked them over a moment, and then retracted his claws.
“You are Meiyo’s son. An image of him.” He pressed his fists together in approval.
“I am honored.” Yami bowed his head to show his respect and gratitude.
“I am glad you have come.” He fished two large mugs from under the bar. “It is nice to see other Oni again.” He poured them both a drink and clanked the cups in front of them.
Yami took a hearty chug. “You could come back to the Den, Chie. Father would be glad to see you again.”
Hiage took a small sip and wrinkled her nose. It was bitter.
“No. There is nothing to be learned in the Den. Some of us must be out in the world.” Chie shook his head. “And who is this?”
Yami snorted. “Hiage.”
“I am honored,” she said.
“Would this be your prospective mate?” Chie laughed. “And don’t look so dour on it!”
“She is born to the second house. My family is honored by this mate.” Yami’s voice went stiff and cold, the way it always did when he spoke of her. She wondered how long he had to practice his lines before he had gotten them right.
“But you don’t like her.” Chie gestured at her.
Hiage bowed her head. She hoped that Yami would not verbalize what she had always known.
“She is clumsy and useless with sword.” Yami growled.
“Kashikoi?” Chie asked.
“Her father will hear nothing of it. He is convinced that his family is Tsuyosa. He earned his place with the sword and is afraid the Kashikoi magics will make her weak.”
“You cannot blame this on the girl. She cannot go to the Kashikoi on her own. Perhaps when you have mated her, you could discretely have them look at her. She may be of value in their ranks.” Chie refilled Yami’s cup and took notice that Hiage hadn’t emptied hers. He looked at her with disapproval and she quickly drank down the burning liquid. Her eyes watered. But the men didn’t notice.
“Even if they found the magic within her, she could not become Kashikoi without her father’s consent. He would never allow it.” Yami drained his second glass.
“Will you pass on her?” Chie looked at Hiage. “She is quite attractive. Bears noble features. She would give you strong children.”
“I don’t know what to do. I need more than children. Her House would give mine strength. We need the alliance…” Yami gestured at her. “I could not stand to walk at her side. I would be measured by my choice in mate.”
Chie nodded. “You have a lot to think about, my friend. Is that why your father has sent you on Jiyu?”
“He thinks that time with her with help solidify our mating.”
“You cannot weigh your father’s will alone. He is strong and is a good guiding hand, but it is you who will lead the House once mated. You cannot make this decision twice, so don’t be too quick to follow the will of others. You need to think. How about I set you up with rooms in the Silver Bullet? We can keep the girl here while you mull it all over.”
“Thank you.” Yami bowed his head.
“Consider it done!” Chie gestured to one of the women behind the bar. She scurried over.
“I want you to take this man to the Silver Bullet. Tell Joban he is my nephew and that his expenses are mine.” Chie shooed the woman away. She hurried around the bar and led Yami out.
Hiage stared at the door. She was glad he was gone, but was unsure what to do. Could she be without his escort?
“Ah, my girl. Let’s get you settled in.” Chie came around the bar and took her arm. She let him guide her through the room, uncomfortable with the honor of walking at his side. He led her up the stairs and into a small, but well furnished room.
“I will have supper sent up to you.” Chie closed the door behind him.
Again, Hiage stared at a door.